Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University. This Friday’s #ArtCrush is Caleigh Clements, a fourth year photography student in thesis.
In this series, Caleigh and Morgan talk about the intersections of art and activism, works that speak to our own individual pain and trauma and bringing people together through art.
Who or what are your main art inspirations?
I find I am often inspired to make work from things outside of looking at visual art. I was not introduced to photography as anything beyond a hobby until I was 18, but I always was creating photographs and reading/writing. I find inspiration from poetry, non-fiction books and life experience.
What subject matter do you tend to spend the most time working on?
I seem to be drawn quite often to subject matter that is personal but can be explored through a more political or historical context. Issues like gender inequality seem to be natural for me to work on as it is something I personally experience, but I find it easier to take a step back and evaluate the ways it affects society and where this comes from.
What drives you to work with that subject matter?
I spent a lot of my childhood in some situations where I could have used an advocate. I found it very hard to speak for myself, so creating this work allows me to advocate for others while also working through issues that affect me.
“I find it impossible to make work that isn’t in response to a much larger context of injustice. It is my natural response.”
Having a Photography major and Art and Social Change minor, what do you see as the artists’ responsibility in reflecting the current social and political environment in which they live?
Art is a medium that is so easily accessible as a means of transmitting information and experience. Artists often are observant and draw from their experiences. I find it difficult to connect to work that overlooks the current political and social environment and I think it is absolutely essential in 2018 to make art that brings people together, distributes useful information or critiques our current situations.
Looking at the different works that you have done, how do you think your artistic practice has changed over time?
My work is becoming more and more personal. I slowly realized the importance in utilizing my unique and diverse life experience and the ways that sharing it could bring people together. I think I had underestimated the power of personal storytelling and the public’s interest in listening.
Caleigh Clements, Blood, digital inkjet print, 2017
What do you believe the value is in having art that is accessible and distributable (such as your Health Journal) or art as performance and social justice acts (such as your Hospital Intervention)? At what point does art become activism or activism become art?
My work has always been intended to bring people together. The aspect of community, shared experience and the distribution of information have always been important parts of my work. I’ve always struggled to find the balance between creating art that has aesthetic value and art that is useful and distributes information or experiences that I think others could benefit from. The definition of art and the definition of activism are virtually the same if you make a list. I find it impossible to make work that isn’t in response to a much larger context of injustice. It is my natural response.
What body of work are you working on right now?
I am continuing to work on my thesis and finalizing my health journal. I hope to have a book launch for a second larger version of the work in the summer.
What has been your biggest learning experience in working on this project especially as it shares your intimate experiences with your health and Canadian health care?
My biggest learning experience and what shocked me the most with working with these women is the value of shared experience. People who experience trauma and hardship are so often isolated because of the shame and fear attached to going through something. This leads to greater issues that I have learned are not worth staying silent for. Sharing information, experience and observations about what we go through can be the greatest device for reconciliation.
Where do you foresee your career path going? Is there anyone who you would like to work with in the future?
I wish to leave my future open. My only goals are to find myself in a career where I can turn research, conversation and experience into art that is useful and bring communities together along the way.
Caleigh Clements, Hair Growth, digital inkjet print, 2017
Are their any specific OCAD U Faculty who have influenced your work? A specific discipline or course?
Min Sook Lee is the biggest influence on the way my work was shaped. She was the first faculty that showed me art I could recognize as useful and important to my experiences as a political and social being. Her “Art and Social Change” courses pushed me to ask more questions, do more research and go into the world and talk to people.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in photography?
My one piece of advice it to take anything that drives you, whether it is something that makes you angry, sad or embarrassed and investigate that feeling, find its power and make art about it.
To see more of Caleighs work visit her website.
Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University.
Interview by Morgan Sears-Williams
About the writer: Morgan is a photo alumni and runs the Friday #ArtCrush series on the OCAD U Photography Blog. She loves speaking to other artists about social justice, how to break barriers within artist communities and nurturing the arts in alternative spaces. She is the Art Co-ordinator for The RUDE Collective, and has done workshops on intersectionality and allyship relating to LGBTQ folks. To see more, you can visit her website or her instagram.